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MOD issues asbestos warning to engineers working on Sea King helicopters

According to press reports this week, the Ministry of Defence has issued a warning to Royal Navy and RAF maintenance personnel who worked on Sea King helicopters that they may have come into contact with asbestos.

The warning follows an official report into the death of an Australian serviceman which attributes his death to exposure to asbestos, petrol or other toxins while working on a naval base.

Petty Officer Greg Lukes, an avionics technician who maintained Sea Kings in New South Wales, died from cancer in 2014.

The press reports that the MoD confirmed it had launched an urgent operation to remove parts containing asbestos from its Sea Kings and military stores. It also warned foreign governments who have bought the helicopters.

Sea Kings came into service in the UK in the late 1960s and have been used in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan primarily in search and rescue efforts.

Peter Williams said that mesothelioma, the cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, is a vicious disease that can take years to manifest.

"The worry is of course that engineers who worked on the helicopters years ago may only now be affected by this terrible disease and may not immediately realise where they were exposed.

"It may be that people affected while working on the helicopters can claim compensation from the MOD, which has a duty of care to protect its employees.

"I'm very concerned that military personnel may have unknowingly been exposed to asbestos in the course of their work."

The dangers of asbestos became widely accepted in the 1960s and 70s primarily in the building and construction industries. The UK has one of the worst records of mesothelioma deaths in the world because the UK government permitted the use of asbestos long after other countries had banned it.

The use of blue and brown asbestos, the most dangerous forms, was banned in the UK in 1985. In Sweden, for example, the use of asbestos for insulation was banned in 1972.

Image credit: Sea King helicopter cc-by-sa/2.0 - © William Starkey -

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